Michelle Dee visits Race Cards by artist Selina Thompson, the highly visual work about identity politics currently housed in Hull Central Library. Pinned on the walls are a 1000 handwritten numbered cards.
Each card contains a question written by Selina over 24 hours, in three sittings across one weekend in Edinburgh. The questions range from the light-hearted to the deeply profound and some flamebait questions that are usually followed by the Michael Jackson popcorn meme: ‘I’m just here for the comments.’
Some of the questions point towards the constant reassessment of your favourites, after they have fallen from grace and proved themselves to be rather less savoury characters, than the bedroom poster promised.
Participants are invited to respond to one of the questions, exploring facets of race and racism in modern society, and add their answer to the provocative, ever-evolving, political and personal installation.
There are any number of ways to read the work, the overwhelming feeling I was left with was simply that I just didn’t know enough of the names and cultural references, these aspects of identity politics are not on my radar. I recognised Rachel Dolezal, Morrissey and Andre 3000, but I didn’t recognise the name Audre Lorde, so the question about her and her work, is left hanging. I wonder whether through the carrying of all these questions, Selina gets tired. I read the same question on the wall and determine she has provided the answer.
One of the recurring questions I’m prompted to think about surrounds authorship and authenticity, exemplified as my friend points out, by the rights and wrongs of the directorship of the film Paris is Burning. I had to stop myself from thinking there was something funereal about the sight of all those cards on the walls, how they reminded me of notices of the missing after a disaster.
The question I chose to answer was about the purpose of words such as diverse, multicultural, BAME I wrote about how they were convenient words used to promote inclusion but actually serve to remove individuality. These umbrella terms that group people together, that presume everyone assigned to that group will look the same, think the same, believe the same… I concluded by noting how labels can be reclaimed even used to empower, but are often the quick fix for lazy copywriters.
My friend took the one asking whether academia can ever be a place of liberation? she described Race Cards as: ‘A clever use of humour and self-reflection, to reflect on the everyday nature of racism.’
The question I left with was: ‘Have you ever stopped yourself doing anything for fear of becoming a stereotype?’ I took it home and stuck it on my fridge where I can see it every day, reminding me to never to be a sheep, to always swim against the crowd, to question everything and believe nothing.
Race Cards runs at Hull Central Library at various times until March 30. FREE and no booking required. Further info here.